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Interrogating workability of existing security structures and state police

President Muhammadu Buhari receiving the Report of the Presidential Panel on the Reform of the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS), which recommended the establishment of state police at the State House, Abuja…recently


As the country continues to contend with widespread insecurity, calls for the establishment of state police has remained on the front burner. The proponents of state police believe that Nigeria is too large to be governed by an ill-equipped central police force with a dysfunctional command structure where state governors, though the chief security officers of their respective states, cannot give directives to a commissioner of police posted to his/her state. In other words, a commissioner of police only takes orders from the Inspector General of Police (IGP), who is ensconced in the seat of power in Abuja and even understands little of the security challenges facing the localities. Meanwhile, the governor bears the blame anytime there is a breach of the peace in his state.

Human rights activist and former president of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), Olisa Agbakoba (SAN), in an interview with The Guardian, faulted the existing policing structure in the country, noting that it was impossible for one IGP to ensure security across Nigeria.

His words: “There is no way one IGP can ensure security across Nigeria; it is not just possible. In the United States and many other federations, there are the county police, which are the local council police, the state police and then the federal. The Federal is the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). But the problem here is the fear that state police will be politicised and I see that danger. But it’s a matter of discussing it very well.

“Let me give few examples of how governors are so totally powerless. When Rotimi Amaechi was governor of Rivers State, he wanted to go to his residence but was stopped by Mr. Joseph Mbu, who was then the commissioner of police in the state. With all the police around Dr. Chris Ngige when he was governor of Anambra State, he was slapped and thrown into a toilet. He was released only through the intervention of the then vice president, Atiku Abubakar. So, where was the security around him?”

Agbakoba observed that in a state like Lagos, the Lagos State Traffic Management Agency (LASTMA) is a police outfit, but which does not go with the name police. “At the state level, the LASTMA in Lagos State is a police. It’s just that it is not called a police force. But LASTMA can now be empowered to deal with municipal crimes. And then the new function of an upgraded LASTMA will be to deal with the mess you see in Lagos, the collapse of traffic and municipal crimes. That is what the state police do in New York. From this, we will begin to find that a governor has real powers to govern his state,” he noted.

LASTMA is just one of the many agencies the Lagos State Government established to complement the efforts of the Nigerian police in maintaining law and order. Many other states in the country have also come up with similar initiatives. A state like Rivers that is contending with cult clashes and kidnapping has the Rivers State Neighbourhood Watch Safety Agency while some local councils in the state like Ogba-Egbema-Ndoni Local Government Area (ONELGA) has the ONELGA Security Peace and Advisory Council (OSPAC). In Imo State, there is the Imo Community Watch, Imo Security Network (ISN) and Imo Civil Guard. Abia State has the Abia State Vigilance Group (ASVG), Taraba State has the Taraba Marshals, while Ekiti State has a combined security team comprising the Police, Army, Civil Defence, Road Safety, Vigilante Group of Nigeria and local hunters nicknamed Joint Task Forces (JTF) that maintains law and order across the state.

Following the June 3, 2019, report of the Presidential Panel on the Reform of the Special Anti-Robbery Squad, which among others recommended the establishment of state police, and President Muhammadu Buhari’s directive to the IGP, the Solicitor General of the Federation and the Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Justice to meet with the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) to work out the modalities for the implementation of the Report within three months, many Nigerians have been asking what would become of these state security structures if state police is finally approved. The Guardian interrogates the workability of existing security structures in some states and state police in this report.

In Rivers, Police Collaborate With Vigilante To Enforce Law And Order
From Kelvin Ebiri, Port Harcourt

The level of violent crimes such as kidnapping, gangsterism, armed robbery, burglary, cultism has been on the rise in Rivers State.Some security analysts have argued that the inability of the police to provide adequate security, particularly in the vulnerable local government areas and densely populated poor neighbourhoods of Port Harcourt and its environs has created a security vacuum that criminal groups now explore without restraint.Worried that criminals were acting with total disregard for the regular police, which is perceived to be mainly reactionary in its responses and routines, communities and the state government were spurred to search for alternatives.

This quest for alternative security system has led to the formation of the Diobu Vigilante Group; the Ogba-Egbema-Ndoni Local Government Area (ONELGA) Security Peace and Advisory Council (OSPAC) and the Rivers State Neighbourhood Watch Safety Agency.In the densely populated Diobu area of Port Harcourt, civilian policing known as Diobu Vigilante Group (DVG) has been formed by residents to deal with their own security needs.

DVG secretary/spokesperson, Prince Amatari Bipeleda, told The Guardian that in the spirit of voluntarism, some trusted persons with profound knowledge of the various criminal networks that operate in Diobu decided to come together to contribute to the safety and security of the community.“Diobu is a commercial city that has major markets like the Mile 3 and Mile markets. Before now, if your car is parked in Diobu it was not safe compared to when it is parked in Port Harcourt township area. We have addressed these issues to the barest minimum. We had cases of armed robbery, burglary and bag snatching. Diobu vigilante came in and addressed these issues and we have achieved a lot. We have recovered stolen cars; we have had confrontation with armed robbers,” he said.

Bipeleda said despite Diobu having one of the highest crime rates in Port Harcourt, the police divisional stations in the area were ill-equipped to combat crime. He pointed out that the Azikwe division, which covers the whole Eagle Island, Iloabuchi from Rivers State University back gate through Lumumba to Emenike junction by Ikwerre road had only two patrol vehicles.

He said the vigilante group patrols the community 24 hours because it was glaring that the police were no longer the only enforcers of law and order. According to him, all members of the community were contributing to the safety and security of the neighbourhood.

“Some policemen that have served in the force for 35 years don’t have some of the experiences we have as a local security outfit. We have a very good relationship with the Divisional Police Officers (DPOs) who know fully well that they cannot do without collaborating with us. But the DPO does not have what it takes to implement community policing.  At the Division level they are limited,” he said.

Bipeleda said state police should be established so that the federating units can take active part in their own affairs as co-providers of quality police services. He argued that it was an erroneous belief for operators of the Nigerian state to continue to assume that federal police alone can maintain and ensure the safety of all the communities in Nigeria.

According to him, “if there is adequate protection of lives and property, I don’t think there will be a call for community policing. People call vigilante when in distress because the police and other sister agencies have failed in responsibilities.”He regretted the politicisation of the Rivers State Neighbourhood Watch Safety Agency by some political actors in the state, thus preventing the agency from commencing its operation.

“The Rivers State Neighbourhood Agency was commissioned just because of this issue of insecurity and it was an agency that cut across the 23 local government areas. We expected that the agency would go a long way in addressing this issue of insecurity. Those opposed to state police and arming of vigilante groups have armed men attached to them. Their parents and children live overseas, well protected. So, who is now protecting the common man? It is the vigilante,” he said.

He added: “Let it be on record that no police division or station can work effectively without synergy with the neighbourhood. And if the neighbourhood is not protected, it means the police are not working. If issues of insecurity are not there, the call for state policing will not also be there. The reason for the call for community policing is because the police cannot do it alone. And until the police change this narrative that they can do it alone, their name will be continually rubbed in the mud.”

In ONELGA, the phenomenal feat achieved by OSPAC in curbing criminality has caused it to be engaged by Emohua, Etche, Ikwerre and Obio-Akpor local government authorities.Sometimes in March, OSPAC teams raided kidnappers’ dens at Egbeda, Omudioga and Ubimini communities in Emohua LGA and rescued a police inspector and another victim, Collins Isaac. Early this month, OSPAC men arrested 10 suspected kidnappers at Ndele, who had mounted a roadblock along the East-West Road with the motive to kidnap commuters.

The unsuspecting kidnappers had on that fateful day intercepted an unmarked vehicle conveying OSPAC members who had disguised as passengers.  A shootout ensued and the OSPAC team overpowered the miscreants and apprehended 10 of them who had since been handed over to the police.

Imo Residents Upbeat About State Police Despite Present Security Outfits
From Collins Osuji and Charles Ogugbuaja, Owerri 

In Imo State, the immediate past governor, Rochas Okorocha made efforts to encourage community policing with the creation of Imo Community Watch, Imo Security Network (ISN) and Imo Civil Guard. These groups were assigned distinctive responsibilities but all are aimed at complementing the efforts of the police and other security agencies in combating crime and criminality; fostering effective traffic control and orderliness as well as protection of lives and property in the state. 

For instance, at the lunch of the ISN in November 2012, Okorocha disclosed that the establishment of the outfit was part of the strategic measures aimed at intensifying the war against kidnapping and crime in the state.He explained then that the outfit would complement the efforts of the security agencies, community vigilante groups and traditional rulers who are the chief security officers in their respective communities towards making Imo a crime free state. These security outfits have in no small measure assisted in curbing crime in the state. The heads of the federal security agencies in the state have all attested to this. They have also done enough to encourage their operation in the state within the ambit of the law. 

As at the time of filing this report, the Governor Emeka Ihedioha administration was yet to make a categorical statement on whether his administration would retain the existing security structures in the state. Nevertheless, one hardly hears about them anymore.But some of the stakeholders who spoke to The Guardian underscored the importance of state police, saying its establishment in Nigeria is long overdue.

Speaking on the importance of community policing, the pioneer Commander General of Imo State Community Watch, Frank Onwumere said: “Community policing is a very wonderful one because every criminal is coming from a community. Cities are pilots of where people come and go back to their respective communities. So, it is only a policeman you employ through that community that can tell you who is an armed robber, rapist or a criminal. Nobody can tell you more about my community unless someone who is living there. In my village, Umueze in Okigwe LGA, I can tell you how many people I know that are criminals. So, community policing is one that should be encouraged by the government and patriotic Nigerians.”

Also, a retired Assistant Inspector General of Police, Charles Ugomuoh, said state police would, among many other benefits, help to bring security to the door steps of the people and also afford the people who know the terrain the opportunity to secure the areas.He noted: “It would help to decentralise the Nigerian Police Force. Nigeria is too large for a centralised police.” 

On his part, the immediate past Chairman of Imo State chapter of the Police Community Relations Committee, Chima Chukwunyere, said: “As far as I am concerned, state police is long overdue. It is one of the things that would help to secure the state and the communities. They will also be there to give life and complement the efforts the federal police are making in the fight against crime. But I must say that those recruited into the force must be thoroughly screened. They should also be given defined responsibility.”

A member of the ISN, John Okechukwu, told The Guardian that the establishment of the network was an eloquent testimony that the establishment of state and local government police would tackle the issue of insecurity at the grassroots level.“I can authoritatively tell you that since the ISN was established, working with the vigilance groups at the local level, the modalities to tackle crime using the locals to achieve it became easier. I am of the view that this should be replicated across the country,” he said.

The Programme Director of Development Dynamics (DD), a non-governmental organisation, Dr. Jude Ohanele, also said there was nothing wrong in establishing state and local government police.

“Definitely, if managed well, there is nothing wrong in that, provided it is not abused. It will help handle security problems at the grassroots. There are such in advanced countries. If politicians would not abuse the intention, why not? There must be strict operational guidelines which must be upheld, if it must take place,” he said.

Apprehension In Abia Amid Police Partnership With Vigilante
From Gordi Udeajah, Umuahia

In Abia State, residents expressed divergent views on the recommendation for the creation of state and local council police. A police officer in Umuahia who pleaded for anonymity told The Guardian that decentralising the police in such a manner that would create federal, state and local council police would bring conflict into the country’s policing system.

Meanwhile, the Commander-General (CG) of Abia State Vigilance Group (ASVG), Mr Martin Mba observed that since the ASVG came into being through a law enacted by the state House of Assembly in 2002, it has been partnering with other security agencies to maintain security in the state.“The ASVG has been assisting in no small measure in fighting crime and criminality in the state. Arrested suspected criminals are handed over to the police immediately for further investigation and prosecution,” he said.

He supported the call for establishment of state and local government police in the country, opining that additional security outfits were long overdue. “Such forces are necessary. They understand their areas of operations better because they have the advantage of local dialect, terrain, traditions, custom, flash points and suspected deviants in the society,” he said.

Ekiti Vigilante Welcomes State Police Role
From Ayodele Afolabi, Ado Ekiti

When Governor Kayode Fayemi took the mantle of leadership in October 2018, it was clear that the Nigerian Police Force, Ekiti State Command, could no longer contain crime in the Fountain of Knowledge. The activities of kidnappers were giving residents of the state sleepless night. Majority of the people were yearning for alternative forms of policing.  At a forum barely few weeks after assuming office, Fayemi said all hands must be on deck to put criminal tendencies in the state at bay and safeguard the lives and property of the residents.

To complement the work of the conventional police, the governor immediately reinstated the sacked operatives of the scrapped Ekiti State Peace Corps with further plan to recruit 800 operatives to work with the police across the state.He also reached out to the Oodua Peoples Congress (OPC) to join hands in the battle against criminals.  At that forum, the governor described OPC as a respectable pan-Yoruba security group urging them to make Ekiti safe.

“We need you because you are credible; you understand the terrain and we have that confidence in you that you can provide supports for the police in the area of providing information for the security agencies that will help their intelligence gathering for them to take proactive actions,” he said. Following this declaration, a combined security team comprising the Police, Army, Civil Defence, Road Safety, Vigilante Group of Nigeria and local hunters nicknamed Joint Task Forces (JTF) was formed to patrol and comb bushes in the 16 local government areas of the State. Their efforts have reduced crime rate in the state. Robbery incidents have been brought down drastically. Unlike before the formation of the JTF, people now sleep with their eyes closed especially in the state capital. The inclusion of the vigilante group and the local hunters who know the bushes and hideouts or dark sports in the state has helped in tracking many criminals, some of whom have been arrested and charged to court for various offences.

However, despite curtailing the activities of armed robbers, ritualists, Yahoo boys and cultists, the kidnapping rate still remains high in the state.The Ekiti State commandant of the Vigilante Group of Nigeria (VGN), Alhaja Suabac Bola Aliyu, noted that her group has been cooperating with the police and other security forces to make Ekiti safe.

“We have been working together without any rancour with JTF. We do join them on patrol in all the 16 local government areas of the state. Whenever we arrest any criminal we hand them over to the police for further investigation. We are members of the Joint Security Forces in Ekiti State. We were trained by both the police and the army,” she said.

She, however, lamented that lack of equipment has been hampering the efforts of her group in combating crime. On whether they would be able to work with the regular police as state police, she retorted: “Why not! We are ready to work with them. We are a group of people that know our terrain very well. We understand the language. We also know every nook and cranny of Ekiti like the palm of our hands. Recently, all the 36 states commandants were with the Inspector General of Police. They are the ones that trained us and we are ready to work with them.”

Plateau Vigilante Leader Faults Creation Of State Police
From Isa Abdulsalami Ahovi, Jos

The vigilante group in Plateau State has been complementing the efforts of the regular police force to combat crime in the state. The activities of the group cannot but be said to be patriotic.

The group has been assisting the security personnel in the state to curb crime. The conventional security personnel in the state attest to that. Members of the vigilante group know the criminals in the society because they live with them unlike the security personnel who do not know the terrain of the state. They give the conventional police credible and dependable information leading to the arrest and prosecution of the criminals.

The Plateau State Deputy Commandant, Vigilante Group of Nigeria, Alhaji Abubakar Garba Hassan, said the group operates within the communities, adding that with the increase in security challenges, the group was poised to meet the yearnings of residents. His words: “One of the major jobs that we are doing in collaboration with the Nigeria Police is to give them authentic information to act on and this is really working. In fact, we are behind the success of any conventional security agency in the state.

“We are community-based people. We live in our community. We know the criminals in the community. We know the nooks and crannies of the community. Every time a crime is committed in the community, with the support of our stakeholders within the community, we fish out the perpetrators. I believe there would be zero tolerance for crime in our communities if we have the opportunity to go beyond what we are doing right now.”

On whether the organisation would be able to work with state police, Hassan noted that as an individual, he was opposed to the creation of state police. “I think it is a contradiction to our operations if the Federal Government should agree to the creation of a state police. I think we are the ones that are the foot soldiers for the conventional security agencies. And as I said before, the success behind the conventional security agencies are the vigilante. We are the ones on ground. The way the criminals are afraid of the vigilante, they are not even afraid of the conventional security agencies because they know we know them. “So, I am calling the attention of the Federal Government and well-meaning Nigerians to speak for us. Already there is a bill seeking the establishment of the Vigilante Group Nigeria. It has scaled through the House of Representatives and Senate. It is now before the President. In my opinion, I have not seen any reason state police should be introduced. Once this bill is signed by the President, you will see actions,” Hassan said.

He added: “Go to the North East where there is Boko Haram insurgency, banditry and kidnapping. Who are the ones assisting the task force in the operations? It is the vigilante. Most vigilante are hunters. Most hunters are vigilante. Once the bill is signed, we can merge together with the hunters. State police is not the solution. Sign the vigilante bill and they will become part of the conventional security agencies and you will be marveled by their actions and operations. This is my own opinion,” Hassan added.

Cross River Vigilante Ready To Work With State Police
From Tina Todo, Calabar

Cross River State Chapter of Vigilante Group of Nigeria (VGN) has said that it would work with state police as an independent outfit.  The security outfit noted that it has been working in collaboration not only with the police but also with other security agencies to fight against crime in the state.

The Assistant State Commandant, Emmanuel Okon, who spoke on behalf of the State Commandant, Bishop Mercy Effiom, told The Guardian in Calabar that as a security outfit, the VGN has helped the police to arrest hardened criminals in communities across the 18 local governments areas of the state.He strongly believes that the country needs security agencies as many as possible to reduce the rate of criminal activities being recorded across the country almost on a daily basis.

Okon said: “The Federal Government knows what is good for the country. It was the same Federal Government that passed the vigilante bill into law. The issue of state policing has been on and so vigilante is not against any other security outfit that the Federal Government would want to bring.”There is no security outfit that can do it alone; we all need to work together. If the Federal Government is bringing state police, they should not forget vigilante because we have been there. If the state police is coming, they are coming to play their part as other agencies have been playing their part before now.” 
He called on the Federal Government to invest more on security, saying: “We need enough security in this country, be it state police, be it local police, be it national police, be it federal police and otherwise. Nigeria needs it!

Taraba Vigilante Seeks Upgrade To State Police
By Charles Akpeji, Jalingo 

Efforts by the vigilante group as well as the Taraba Marshals to join forces with government owned security operatives in Taraba State is no doubt yielding positive results. The leaders of the security agencies, especially the police, had on several occasions admitted that the achievements of the force in terms of reducing crime would not have been possible without the collaborative efforts of the vigilantes.

The Guardian findings showed that the groups go the extra mile to fish out hoodlums from their hideout, arrest them and hand them over to the police for further investigations. The vigilantes also often assist in settling disputes that would have resulted in killings and wanton destruction of property
among rural dwellers. 

A member of the vigilante group who gave his name as Bello Umar told The Guardian that their efforts towards flushing out undesirable elements from the state have being yielding positive results. 

“We have been working effectively with the police in addressing the crime situation in this state. The police have been giving us all the necessary cooperation we deserve.  So, we have no single regret working hand in hand with them,” he said. According to Umar, the group is “ever ready to collaborate with all the security outfits to permanently put to rest the activities of criminals.”He, however, called on the state government to extend “more helping hands to us especially in the areas of logistics because that would further boost our moral, which would in turn encourage us to go after these bad eggs that are giving our people sleepless nights.”Umar said vigilante groups in the state would work effectively with the federal police force if given independent to operate as state police.

“Collectively both the state police and the federal police would at the end of the day achieve the dream of bringing criminals on their knees. What I am trying to say is that state police if approved would not be a threat to the regular police. The two can work together effectively without any form of misunderstanding because we all know where our responsibilities would start from and where it will stop,” Umar added.

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